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We Need a Clean Vote Now on Afghanistan Escalation

Under our constitutional democracy, Congress has the power and the responsibility to establish a policy on President Obama's plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and, if Congress opposes sending more troops, to try to block or alter this policy. The question now is whether Congress will act before the policy is implemented, and whether it will do so in a "clean" vote - an up or down vote solely on the question of sending more troops, unentangled with unrelated issues like flood relief for farmers or extending unemployment benefits.

If Congress does not act quickly, the President's proposal may become an accomplished fact. Already, President Obama has ordered Marine units to be deployed later this month. If Congress waits for months to debate the issue, most of the new troops may already be in place.

Anti-war Representatives are pressing for an early vote on funding for more troops so President Obama's policy will be judged by Congress before thousands of additional troops are sent into combat, the Politico reports. "Let us have this debate before he moves forward," Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA] said. "I'd like it to be before we escalate one single American troop over there."

For most of the Iraq war, Congress typically waited until late May or June to approve emergency war funding. The last war supplemental was approved in mid-June. If Congress waits until May or June to render judgment on President Obama's plans, most of the troops may already be in place, making it much harder for Congress to oppose or limit their deployment. If Congress acts now - particularly the House, more influenced by public opinion - it can stop or limit funding for the President's troop increase by a simple majority vote. You can urge your Representative and Senators to support a clean vote now on military escalation in Afghanistan by clicking here.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the House would oppose funding for military escalation in a clean vote. But a clean vote would be likely to be a real contest, which would, at the very least, underscore for world opinion the depth of Democratic opposition to the indefinite continuation of the war, an act which would in itself help to speed the conclusion of the war.

Already in the summer, a majority of House Democrats, including members of the House leadership, voted for Representative McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy. That was before the fiasco of the Afghan election, before General McChrystal's grim assessment of the status quo and future prospects, before President Obama proposed to send 30,000 more troops without establishing a date for ending U.S. military involvement.

MoveOn, whose membership is broadly reflective of politically active Democrats, polled 1% of its membership in the wake of the President's speech, which one would have expected would give a temporary bounce among Democrats to support for the President's position. Asked to report their intensity of agreement with the statement, "We should establish a clear military exit strategy from Afghanistan with a firm timeline," the average response was 8.5 out of 10. If one assumes that the 16.1% of MoveOn respondents who said they "supported" the war completely disagreed with the demand for an exit strategy with a firm timeline, then among the remaining 83.9% of MoveOn respondents, the average agreement with the statement, "We should establish a clear military exit strategy from Afghanistan with a firm timeline" was 9.94 out of 10.

MoveOn is asking its members to sign a petition that says:

"Congress must push the Obama administration to outline firm benchmarks and a binding timeline to bring all of our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible."

That suggests that MoveOn will support legislation that imposes a binding timeline for withdrawal. That's an indicator that an overwhelming majority of House Democrats could be influenced to vote for such legislation. That suggests that Members of Congress will be likely to introduce such legislation, if given the opportunity. That suggests that a Congressional debate and vote on escalation now could change the course of U.S. policy.

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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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